The spokesman for Miami-Dade’s mayor accused Miami Marlins President David Samson of “pettiness” Sunday over the speaking plan for the dedication of a youth baseball field that was part of the All-Star Game festivities.
Michael Hernández, who holds the title of senior advisor to Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said Samson declined a request for Hernández to speak on behalf of the mayor at a Sunday morning ribbon cutting for a county ball field designed for special-needs players and funded in a partnership with the county and the Marlins.
Gimenez canceled plans to be at the Tamiami Park ceremony, and Hernández said Samson redid the speaking program to eliminate remarks from the mayor’s office.
“What was important today was the purpose for the field and the hard work of the Miami-Dade County parks and recreation department for young residents of Miami-Dade County who would benefit from it, not David Samson’s pettiness,” Hernández, Gimenez’s communications director, wrote in a statement Sunday evening. “It’s unfortunate that David would allow his personal feelings to influence the event that was meant to highlight a collaborative effort for our residents.”
The rebuke from the mayor’s office to the top executive of the Marlins came at the kick-off of Miami hosting its first All-Star game, traditionally a time for a city to celebrate Major League Baseball. But with the 2009 public financing deal of Marlins Park still a political punching bag in Miami, hard feelings run deep between County Hall and the team’s front office.
Gimenez, who opposed the stadium deal as a county commissioner, waited five seasons before he attended his first Marlins game at the county-owned stadium. That was last July, when he attended an on-field ceremony celebrating the coming All-Star Game in 2017. Gimenez will not attend the big game on Tuesday, Hernández said.
Reached Sunday night, Samson declined to respond to Hernández’s statement. “The mayor didn’t come. So we had Commissioner Joe Martinez speak instead,” Samson said, referring to the county commissioner whose district includes Tamiami Park.
Asked about an alleged snub of the mayor’s office, Samson began the interview highlighting the All-Star festivities and the new home field of the “Miracle League,” a baseball team of children with mental or physical disabilities.
“It was a home run,” Samson said of the Sunday event. “What an amazing few days we’re having . Dedications, and lasting legacy projects.”
Hernández’s statement follows a front-page story in the New York Times in which Gimenez criticized Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria for plans to sell the team for what the mayor estimated would be a $500 million profit. “It sticks in my craw,” Gimenez told the paper.
His friction with the Marlins helped make him an anomaly on the roster of mayors of Major League Baseball cities; in 2014, the Miami Herald couldn’t find another mayor who steered clear of an entire MLB season in his or her city. Tomás Regalado, the mayor of Miami and another opponent of the 2009 stadium deal, had attended a Marlins game with grandchildren shortly after the ballpark opened in 2012. Regalado said he also will not attend Tuesday’s All-Star game.
During the depths of a recession and a growing budget crisis, Miami-Dade agreed to borrow $370 million to build the $515 million ballpark that both the Marlins and Major League Baseball said was needed to keep the team in Miami. The deal helped lead to the recall of then-mayor Carlos Alvarez. It drew even more ire when leaked financial documents showed the Marlins were profitable during a time the team sought government help.
In an interview, Hernández said Gimenez, who was listed as a speaker on the event program prepared by the county, attended a family function instead of the 10:30 a.m. dedication of the new $930,000 ballpark. The Marlins Foundation paid for the largest share of the cost, about $370,000. Major League Baseball kicked in another $62,000, with $300,000 from Florida and $198,000 from the county, according to figures Hernández provided.
Hernández said Gimenez asked him to speak at the ceremony, and that county parks director Maria Nardi told Samson of the change. When Hernández came to the front before the ceremony, he said Samson told him, “We’re only going to have Commissioner Martinez speak.” Martinez was listed on the original speaking program, after welcoming remarks from Nardi and Gimenez.
Nardi, an Gimenez appointee, could not be reached for an interview Sunday.
Hernández said he didn’t challenge Samson’s plan for the event. “I did not want to create a scene,” he said.